Earth Day then and now … Part three: What can we do?

Since the exhilaration of earlier Earth Days, environmental conditions have deteriorated over a broad range of issues.

Many business and economic interests no longer work cooperatively with government to solve our environmental problems. Instead, problems are denied, scientific research is attacked as biased, government studies are repressed or altered, political leaders mock global warming as a hoax, and those who call for reforms are denigrated as environmental wackos by radio pundits.

Bill McKibben, writing in onearth magazine, explores the surprising emergence of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as a champion of global warming legislation, and the extreme contrasting views of some of his fellow Republicans.

According to Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, the extreme views come from a worship of the marketplace and a belief that no good ever comes from interfering with it. In their minds, economic prosperity is linked to fossil fuels, and they see no need to accelerate a transition to other energy forms.

Ignored in the marketplace rhetoric are substantial government subsidies given to fossil fuels that distort the market price of energy and contribute to its overuse in our society. Take away fossil fuel subsidies and watch efficiency and alternative energy use soar.

Pete McCloskey, the Republican co-sponsor of the first Earth Day, felt people could always count on Republican support for environmental reforms until Newt Gingrich took over. The great Republican enviros have dwindled to just a few in the Northeast. Moderates fear their party will withdraw support from them if they endorse a pro-environment agenda.

As Ralph Nader continues to point out, Democrats share responsibility for the current state of affairs. McCain reminds us that even Al Gore distanced himself from the climate change issue, despite his strong views on the subject, as he sensed it was a political loser.

Thomas Frank, writing in Harper’s magazine, finds former Democrats voting against their own economic interests when aroused by explosive social issues.

McCain has decided to do something about global climate change. He reminds us that Republican President Theodore Roosevelt railed against the notion that private interests always trump public good. He saw materialism as leading people to indolence and greed.

The only hope McCain offers is that climate change becomes an issue in congressional, senatorial and presidential campaigns and that voters unite to overcome the special interests that are blocking significant action.

From an environmental perspective, climate change is the most important issue we face. We need to respond in an appropriate manner. If we are to meet the challenge, it will require a groundswell of support.

Opinion polls continue to show public support for environmental reforms. The challenge is to tap that interest and give it focus so political leaders will enact appropriate legislation.

A good start for you would be to attend Earth Day events in your community and reacquaint yourself with the free life-giving services provided by nature. Do some reading, talk to your friends and family, join an environmental organization and let your political leaders know of your concerns to make global warming a political issue.

You owe it to yourself, your children and grandchildren as well as the planet. We will all live with the consequences, which will only be worse if we do not take appropriate action today.

Reference: Bill McKibben, “Is this guy for real?” onearth, spring, 2004, pgs.15-19.

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